One Game Rant writer gets some hands-on time with The Culling, an upcoming Steam early access title inspired by Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.
Last weekend, we had a chance to step onto the blood-soaked island of The Culling and experience the Hunger Games-inspired game for ourselves. Xaviant Games is hoping to become the next indie multiplayer smash hit studio with The Culling, a game with a simple premise: put a number of contestants on an island, force them to scavenge for randomly placed items, and then force them to fight to the death until only one person is left standing.
Both the tutorial and the trailer do a good job explaining things, and we would recommend the former for new players who may not think that rubbing two sticks and a stone together somehow equates to crafting things like bows and spears. Once players feel ready to murder their fellow man, there are three game modes to pick from: solo multiplayer, multiplayer with teams of two, or offline against bots. The bots don’t have fast reaction times, and they make for good practice as players get a feel for the game – but The Culling is a title meant to be played against other humans. This is Battle Royale – or at least as close as one can get without a lawsuit.
As promised, the game places players on a very sizable map that features plenty of water, sewage-based buildings, an airport, a mountain range, and a central killing spot that all the players are eventually funneled into. The size of the map is both a blessing and a curse; it allows players to hide (or hunt) in the shadows, but it can also mean some players will be spend the better part of 25 minutes without having seen other players. To combat this, players in the central zone can trigger a master gas valve after a certain amount of playing time, which slowly forces everyone to the central position. If it wasn’t obvious, this isn’t a game where a stalemate is likely.
The Culling features a pretty diverse range of weapons, and they seem to come in three stages. Early game, players will either be rubbing sticks and stones together to make primitive spears and bows, whilst other players tend to head straight for the lockers and crates littered around the island in the hopes of finding some advanced weapons. This is a gamble, as finding such things isn’t a guarantee, with each locker randomly resetting itself after each match.
Players are rewarded for exploring the island in the form of F.U.N.C., a currency which players can use to heal themselves (at healing “machines”) or unlock new weapon crates. Players also earn F.U.N.C. for killing opponents, so those who opt not to run around the island can also accumulate some alternative greenbacks. This leads into the next tier of weapons, which come in blue crates that require a certain amount of F.U.N.C. to unlock. Gone are the wood-based weapons of the past, replaced by crowbars, recurve bows, and factory-made medical kits. Beyond this, those who have bloodied themselves even more can purchase an expensive customizable drop that is flown in via drone, and assuming this isn’t shot down and stolen by other players, it’ll give them some top-tier firepower for the competition.
After playing several rounds, I found myself enjoying the basic premise of the game. Darting between trees outside, I would often walk straight into a well-placed arrow from an archer that had been lying in wait. I became faster in my early-game scavenging, and started racking up the kills against those who couldn’t find weapons in time. At its core, The Culling is about a desperate push for immediate survival, and taking advantage of less-equipped players is key. Those who survive enter the late game, which is a battle of wits to see who will get the drop on who.
Even in the solo last-man-standing game mode, some players would team up, despite the fact that only one of them would ultimately be able to walk away at the end of the round. This meta-game adds a nice mental aspect to The Culling, and that’s where it shines: players spend most of the game worrying about taking a knife to the back, and hoping their opponents aren’t better equipped and better situated. It can get pretty tense.
In contrast to how real the mental aspect of the game can get, The Culling implements a ridiculous host who’s voice blares from the speakers and cameras that litter the island. He’ll inform gamers of player deaths and periodic air drops, which tempt players to risk it all for higher tier weapons that range from sledgehammers and smoke bombs to SMGs and hand grenades. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for this host to get repetitive: even in my first round, I heard the same spear-related dialogue line repeated no less than 6 times, and that number rose rapidly as the rounds progressed.
Ultimately, I walked away from The Culling alpha with a positive impression of the game. It has plenty of slow moments, but the multiplayer action is surprisingly solid. As expected with an alpha, there were some graphical glitches, but the general atmosphere of the game is entertaining in a semi-ridiculous, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare kind of way. Whilst I have mixed feelings about the map size and periods of inactivity, that’s simply the nature of the beast: The Culling is Battle Royale and The Hunger Games mixed into one bloody package.
With less than a week until the game is released via early access on Steam, The Culling certainly has potential to be a decent distraction title, with plenty of fun multiplayer moments. It doesn’t warrant a gigantic price tag, and it doesn’t come with one either: at $12.99 for a copy of the game, it looks like money well spent for a group of friends looking to goof around with a title that offers plenty of combat, bragging rights, and an over-the-top atmosphere.
The Culling will release on March 8th on PC as an early access title.